GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Saturday won’t be the first time Anne Chamberlin has participated in the Fifth Third River Bank Run, but her road to the race has never been so daunting.
“We have a choice of how we’re going to live each day,” Chamberlin said. “It’s hope, and it’s one day at a time. None of us have a guarantee.”
The East Grand Rapids native has been a recreational runner since she was in high school.
“I was a runner to stay in shape, to be fit and to be active,” she said.
Now at age 53, she runs to remember her friend, and in hopes of finding a cure for cancer.
“I was diagnosed in the fall of 2012, October, right after I had gotten married. I was packing for my honeymoon,” Chamberlin said. “I was diagnosed with stage four, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A very aggressive, high-grade form.”
It was so aggressive and had progressed so far that Chamberlin was rushed into chemotherapy.
“By the time I was diagnosed, it had spread basically head to toe. It was in my bone marrow, so it was in my skull, it was in my femur, it was in my shoulder,” she said. “It also had created tumors in my abdomen and my spleen was also almost completely covered.”
She went through eight grueling rounds of chemotherapy over seven long months.
“Because my cancer was advanced and aggressive, I received spinal infusions of chemotherapy,” she said.
But the cancer was still there the following spring. Radiation treatment followed in July 2013. In December, she had surgery to remove her spleen.
Still, her prognosis was uncertain.
“We do have a 50% chance of recurrence, which is a little bit of a high number,” Chamberlin said. “But that means we also have a 50% chance of no recurrence. So my glass is always half-full.”
In addition to her husband and four daughters, Chamberlin shared her battle with and relied heavily on an old college friend named Jenny Vanderlind, who had breast and ovarian cancer.
“I think when you are suffering from a disease like cancer, the only person that can really understand your struggle is somebody else that’s gone through it,” Chamberlin said. “So she and I would message each other daily and laugh and cry.”
But in early April, the cancer took Vanderlind’s life.
“When she was dying, I said to her, ‘Who am I going to talk to? Who’s going to understand me like you?’ And she said, ‘I’ll be here. I’ll be with you.” And I talk to her all the time,” Chamberlin said.
Before Vanderlind died, Chamberlin said she wanted to do something to honor her.
“I told her I was thinking about running this long race and I said, ‘But I don’t think I can do it.’ And she said, ‘Of course you can do it.’ So I signed up for the 25K River Bank Run and Jenny and I decided that I would raise money for the American Cancer Society,” Chamberlin said.
Her body still weak from the fight against caner, Chamberlin began to push it even harder.
“In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a very wise decision,” she said with a laugh. “I had to train fast and hard, because I didn’t start training until the end of December after I recovered from surgery. So I pushed it pretty hard.”
She runs when she can.
“It’s been a struggle — a big struggle — but Jenny’s getting me going and I’m going to get it done,” Chamberlin said.
She sings and talks to Jenny to keep herself going.
“She was full of joy right up to the end. That is a big inspiration to me,” she said.
Her initial donation goal was $3,000.
“I hit it, so I bumped I up to $5,000 and I hit it,” she said.
Chamberlin had collected more than $11,000 as of Tuesday. She hopes to reach $12,000.
But more importantly, she hopes to spread hope through her run in honor of Vanderlind and others who fight cancer.
“I think it’s going to be a great day,” she said. “I’m going to feel proud, and I’m going to remember Jenny, and I’m going to remember all these other cancer warriors.”